Democrats' Bait and Switch Election Strategy

In 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned for president by promising tax cuts for the middle class. Fourteen years later, his Party ran on a similar "tell the people exactly what they want to hear" motif, this time the mantra being a speedy withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Though separated by almost a decade and a half, these campaign strategies were quite similar to a now illegal marketing scheme called a bait and switch - whereby a company advertises a product for sale at a cheap price to lure in customers. Unfortunately, the organization's retail outlets don't actually have the item in stock forcing anxious shoppers to consider more expensive products that are available.

I Dig a Phony

Much like this advertising scam, the 1992 and 2006 political campaigns had three things in common:

  • They were hugely successful in garnering enough votes to assure victory
  • They offered promises that weren't remotely meant to be kept
  • Their pledges would be rescinded before those newly elected would take office.

Surprisingly, the Democrats of 2006 were faster in retracting their campaign promises than Clinton. He at least waited a few weeks to tell the seemingly stunned populace that "suddenly" exploding budget deficits made tax cuts unfeasible, setting up the perfect ruse to raise them. By contrast, in 2006, the Democrats only waited nine days to betray their supporters. This most recent backstabbing of the electorate is a little less obvious though - or, as liberal elites like to say, more nuanced - and came in the form of a coronation by House Democrats of Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) as their Majority Leader instead of antiwar hero Jack Murtha (D-Pennsylvania). Many in the media saw this as a vote of no confidence in the Congressman's ethics background. However, buried deep under the surface was something far more telling. With this one vote, the left made it clear that regardless of what they said during the campaign, they fully understood how a capricious withdrawal from Iraq was not in the country's best interest.

I Don't Want to Soil the Party

To be sure, some well-timed comments by General John Abizaid on Wednesday, making it clear that he didn't support any troop reductions at this time, proved quite fortuitous for Democrats in dire need of a Party makeover. This made supporting the currently more hawkish Hoyer the perfect tonic for those on the left looking to get this issue out of the way well before the new Congress was sworn in. Equally timely was a Washington Post editorial published the day before adroitly explaining the need for the coming Democrat change of direction:

But [Murtha's] descriptions of the stakes [in Iraq] have been consistently unrealistic, and his solutions irresponsible. Just last week he denied that the United States was fighting terrorism in Iraq, though al-Qaeda is known to play a major part in the insurgency. He said the United States should abandon even the effort to train the Iraqi army and should "redeploy as soon as practicable," an extreme step that most congressional Democrats oppose. He claimed that "stability in the Middle East, stability in Iraq," would come from such an abrupt withdrawal; in fact, virtually all Iraqi and Middle Eastern leaders have said that it would lead to a greatly escalated conflict that could spread through the region.

Obviously, achieving this necessary character switch would require Democrats to begin separating themselves from their campaign promises. After all, exit polls showed that 67 percent of voters felt Iraq was either very or extremely important in their election decisions. Of the 56 percent that said they disapproved of the war, 80 percent voted for Democrats. And, 82 percent of those that wanted all of the troops withdrawn (representing 29 percent of voters) supported Democrat candidates. As a result, millions of Americans voted "D" in their districts and states exclusively due to the belief that this would lead to an expeditious withdrawal of troops. Once it became clear that such a move was not going to happen, the Democrats had to figure out a way to explain to the electorate that conditions had somehow radically changed in just nine days making their campaign promises implausible. Of course, it's likely that many Americans never bought into the Democrat pledge to withdraw troops quickly, and easily saw through the canard. Though appearing at this time to be a species facing extinction, many inside the Beltway refer to them not so affectionately as conservatives. Heartfelt congratulations go to all in that camp. However, that doesn't assuage the anger those who did get fooled again will feel when they discover that they fell prey to the same nefarious bait and switch scheme as they did back in 1992. Much as then, it is incumbent on the Democrats to make all those duped feel better about themselves, thereby making it easier to pull the wool over their eyes the next time this campaign strategy becomes necessary.

Johnny B. Bad

Step one in accomplishing this goal was for Democrats to distance themselves from the very man that almost single-handedly got the antiwar movement rolling back on November 17, 2005. Of course, it does appear a bit unseemly that Murtha's "assassination" so to speak occurred almost exactly on the one year anniversary of his first well-publicized protestations about Iraq. Maybe that's just icing on the cake, or, in keeping with the season, sauce for the goose. Why was this essential? Well, if the Democrat Party were indeed going to backtrack from an antiwar position, how could their second in command in the House be the point-man for such pacifist tendencies? Certainly, it would be preposterous for a Congressman that had been such a strident and high-profile advocate for troop withdrawal to be in such a high position of power in a Party that is now going to take a less dovish posture. Unfortunately, this raised other problems, as Murtha had been a darling of the media for the past twelve months. As Cybercast News Service reported on January 13, 2006:

Since Murtha's Nov. 17, 2005, call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, one CNN anchor has called him "one of the most highly respected members of Congress," the Associated Press has referred to Murtha as "one of Congress' most hawkish Democrats," and ABC News has noted that he is "a decorated marine who served in Vietnam."

Such praise came despite a huge Los Angeles Times expose about Murtha's earmarking on June 13, 2005, and an October 18, 2005, Hill article on the same subject. Unsurprisingly, virtually no media outlet chose to report any of Murtha's sordid past after he became the de facto spokesman of the antiwar movement. This was so obvious that even the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz pointed it out on Sunday's Reliable Sources:

[T]here was a big LA Times expose last year about Jack Murtha doing favors for companies that contributed to his campaign and that sort of thing. It got almost no national pickup until after the midterm elections.
The Media Reverses Course on Murtha's Ethics Issues

As a result, to make this "assassination" work, step two was to get a previously adoring press quickly to alter its view of the Congressman, and comply with the need for a hit job. And, comply they did. First out of the gates was NBC Nightly News, which on Thursday evening, just hours after the historic vote, fabulously threw Murtha under the bus. After playing the now infamous video of the Congressman discussing a bribe with an FBI agent - a video whose public display was totally verboten before the election - correspondent Chip Reid reported:

Murtha was investigated by the FBI in the Abscam bribery scandal 26 years ago, though he was never charged, and recently expressed frustration over a proposed Democratic package of ethics reforms. Rep. MURTHA: (From MSNBC's "Hardball") And it is total crap that we have to deal with an issue like this when we got a war going on.

Reid concluded this segment by getting a quote from political analyst Norman Ornstein:

You can't have the theme that you're going to clean up the culture of corruption and then hand pick somebody who is a product of that culture.

Next up to kick the carcass of one suddenly despised by his caucus was the New York Times which published a scathing editorial on Friday that could have been found at either the Washington Times or the National Review: The well-known shortcomings of Mr. Murtha were broadcast for all to see -- from his quid-pro-quo addiction to moneyed lobbyists to the grainy government tape of his involvement in the Abscam scandal a generation ago. [...] Mr. Murtha would have been a farcical presence in a leadership promising the cleanest Congress in history.

All We Are Saying is Give War a Chance

With step two complete, it was next essential for the media to begin laying the groundwork for changing the public's view concerning Iraq. The network morning news programs were willing accomplices as NBC's Matt Lauer set up a segment on Friday's Today Show:

Americans let Congress know loud and clear they're not happy with the war in Iraq, but what would happen if the US just packed up and left?

Correspondent Richard Engel amazingly responded:

Well, I think what happened in southern Iraq yesterday is a good example of the kind of security situation that would develop. In those provinces in the south where those Americans were kidnapped, British and Italian forces have been pulling back and handing over authority to the Iraqi security forces. But instead of having a stable environment, it was handed over to militiamen and highway robbers, and a--probably a similar pattern would be repeated across the country.

Shocking analysis from a gentleman that was quoted in an October 26, 2006, Washington Post article as having said:

I think war should be illegal...I'm basically a pacifist.

Suddenly no longer so dovish, Engel continued with his report on Friday about what would happen if American troops withdrew from Iraq:

Iraqis overwhelmingly say it would push the country deeper into chaos. Three states would claw their way into existence in a civil war, creating an independent Kurdistan, opposed by Turkey, Iran and Syria; a Shiite south allied with Iran and in control of much of Iraq's oil and access to the Persian Gulf; and a failed Sunni state run by tribunal war lords, some backed by al-Qaeda. [...] Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has said one of al-Qaeda's goals is to find a state or part of a state as a new homeland. Leaving Iraq with a power vacuum might just give it to him. So there is that danger, Matt, that a quick pullout could have just the opposite effect of the entire war, which is to create an al-Qaeda safe haven to launch further attacks.
War's Not Over If You Want It

With the media now starting to toe the "give war a chance" line, the Democrats were well on their way to achieving a transformation that Bill Clinton could be proud of. However, there are still snakes lying in the grass, for the members of the extreme left who worked tirelessly on pushing the antiwar agenda as well as antiwar candidates are not likely to buy into this new posture. Or are they? David Corn of the Nation wrote shortly after the Steny Hoyer vote on Thursday:

Moreover, Murtha, the candidate with the most ardent antiwar credentials, lost--and did so decisively. How will this be interpreted (or exploited) by pundits and politicos who oppose the Pelosi/Murtha call for the withdrawal of troops? Murtha champions did try to turn the majority leader race into a debate on the Iraq war. Can the vote be read as an indicator that many House Democrats don't support Pelosi all the way on her opposition to the war?

Yet, less than 24 hours later, Corn published the following at the Nation's website in a Friday blog post entitled "Democrats and Withdrawal from Iraq: Asking Too Much?":

Pulling out American troops might remove a possible obstacle to a political accommodation among Iraqi parties that leads to less chaos and violence. The removal of troops, though, could cause the opposite and render it tougher for the Iraqi government (even with much U.S. assistance) to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and to train a worthwhile military and police force--particularly if other nations, including those of the region, do not become more involved in repairing Iraq.

These opinions espoused by the Washington editor of one of the most liberal magazines in America were the byproduct of a breakfast meeting that incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) hosted for reporters on Thursday shortly before the House vote on Hoyer. If this is what Corn took away from such a gathering, and he is now advocating this nuanced Democrat approach towards Iraq, the country could soon be teeming with reformed antiwar zealots singing the same adulterated John Lennon refrain. And the left thinks Karl Rove is a devious genius. Noel Sheppard is a frequent contributor to the American Thinker. He is also contributing editor for the Media Research Center's, and a contributing writer to its Business & Media Institute. Noel welcomes feedback.

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